​It's Time to Stop Hugging Your Chickens

Put that backyard chicken down and go wash your hands. (Photo: Miriam Doerr/Shutterstock)

If you're an urban or suburban chicken farmer, there's a chance you may consider your egg-producing, feathered friends family. You may have even given your chickens names, and you certainly care about them deeply. But do you cuddle and kiss them?

So far in 2019, there have been 1,003 cases in 49 states linked to salmonella poisoning from contact with backyard chickens, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Two people have died from the infection and 175 have been hospitalized.

The outbreak of salmonella can be traced back to chicks, ducklings and other poultry from multiple hatcheries in several states. People who have gotten birds that began life in these hatcheries are getting sick after close contact with the birds. However, the CDC notes, all live poultry can carry salmonella bacteria, regardless of where they were purchased and even if they look healthy and clean.

Of course, not all of those who have gotten ill have kissed their chickens. Any human contact with an infected bird can lead to illness. The CDC explains how:

People can be infected with Salmonella germs when they put their hands or equipment that has been in contact with poultry, in or around their mouth. Children younger than 5 years are more likely to get sick because their immune systems are still developing, and they are more likely to put their fingers and other objects into their mouths.
People can also get sick without actually touching a bird. Germs on your hands can spread easily to other people or surfaces. That’s why it’s important to wash hands immediately with soap and water after touching poultry or anything in the area where they live and roam.

To minimize the risk of salmonella poisoning from live poultry, the CDC recommends always assuming that contamination can happen and recommends the following:

  • After touching live poultry or an area where they've been, wash your hands with soap and water. If none is available, use hand sanitizer.
  • Don't let children under age 5 handle or touch live poultry without adult supervision.
  • If you have clothes and shoes soiled from being around poultry, wash your hands after removing them.
  • Cook eggs that you’ve collected from backyard hens thoroughly since salmonella can pass to the interior eggs.
  • Clean equipment and materials associated with the birds.
  • Don't bring live poultry inside your house.

And you might love your chickens, but the CDC specifically points out, "Don't kiss backyard poultry, or snuggle them and then touch your face or mouth."